Caving Reviews

Classic Caving in the Yorkshire Dales

Dear Bob


I have been caving for many years and have some great memories of the great vertical systems of the Yorkshire Dales, however, I was completely blown away with the day I spent with you yesterday and haven't stopped thinking about it since I left at 5.30pm last night. My wife says I've been gone for 2 days this week end, the Dales yesterday and in the head today! She's getting pretty fed up with me talking about it all the time and has suggested I get it all out of my system by thanking you both!…. I decided not only to thank you but to try and share my thoughts of the day. You guys had your trip and I had mine!


When I originally spoke to you about coming for a trip during your classic caving caves meet, I must admit that I didn't really do much in the way of researching who I was going with, just that a couple of friends had done some caving with Pennine National caving a few years ago and spoke of meeting the worlds fastest caver from the Equinox 'Fear of Falling' programme who was taking another team into Diccan pot when they were about to go down Alum Pot. Their guide told them that this was a pretty well known caving instructor and assesses other instructors. I came to you by recommendation to do the Alum Pot trip and I was very grateful for you letting me join in with your Saturday trip.

Alum Pot, Dolly Tubs Ledge.


I was a bit nervous to say the least meeting up with you and the other members of the party as I guessed they'd been with you for a few days, but you made me feel very welcome and the others looked like they were absolutely buzzing. Breakfast was excellent and the talk quickly moved onto to the days trip when your college Nige arrived. A good early start was made to get to the cave before other cavers. Then the day just got better and better as lots of things started to fall into place!


When we arrived at the site, all quickly got kitted up and I must admit to taking some time as I was becoming aware that everyone else around me was pretty slick! Your mate Nige seemed to appear in his kit from nowhere and was soon at my side. He was giving me a good old check up and asked about my choice of kit, not every questioning it, just a sort of enthusiastic quick assessment. I really liked his approach as some cavers just criticise things if they are not the way they are used to. He was happy with what I was wearing and offered a few suggestions to try. This was a refreshing way of 'instructing', try something not 'do it my way'… I started to think that Nige was probably a better instructor than you at this point… how stupid I feel now after looking back, I still had no idea at this point who I was going underground with!


For saying that the group had done 3 hard days of caving with you already, didn't show at all as they sped off up the hillside. No sooner had we reached the entrance and we were in. I have never laughed so hard for so long, you guys are complete nutters and it was at this point that I really wished I'd have taken the week off work to do the earlier trips with you. After about 15 minutes and a few climbs, we came to a chamber and at the end was a yellow clad figure singing his head off, it was Nige and I didn't realize that he had sped off to rig.


Everyone was on an amazing high and the trip to Yorkshire was worth it just be right there at this time. After you and the team had abseiled down, Nige remained at the top and watched me across the traverse line as I made my way to the pitch head. I have done lots of abseiling before and Nige offered a couple of tips for me to try (that try word again…)   and he held onto the rope as I swung out into open space. He literally taught me how to use my descender again and I descended in a more controlled way than I had ever done before.


At the bottom, everyone was gathered on a day lit ledge that looked like the surface of a planet and the cameras came out. "Don't miss Nige coming down the rope" someone said and as I turned round he was there next to me…. WOW. So silent and ghost like.


The ledge was an absolutely amazing experience and one I will never forget for the rest of my life. The sun coming in through the trees at the top of the shaft, the waterfall at the far end, the green walls and the drop into the abyss in front of us, absolutely brilliant….


I was passed out as being competent and Nige went on to rig to the bottom, I never saw him again on the way down. I guess this was a sort of assessment of my ability which was no bad thing as I would have not liked to have held anyone back, especially the group you had with you who all looked like they had been doing SRT for many years, how surprised I was when one of them told me that he had only learnt SRT a few weeks ago. He said he's been on an SRT course and it was worth every penny. His mates had some form of informal training with their club and had got into all sorts of scrapes in the past so they decided to go on a course with Nigel Atkins and get it all sorted out a couple of years ago after they'd met him at the NEC outdoors show.


Nige was 'rope running' into the roof at the side of the big artificial cave that the BCA had and was demonstrating Petzl kit. He told me he went on the same course with Nige recently who not only got him up to a high standard within the first day, but he also managed to blag a couple of new karabiners off him. Must be a pretty good Instructor then I asked. "Well he is probably the most respected in the country" I was informed.


When crossing the top of the bridge, I was told of 2 routes to the bottom. The one we were taking was to the right as we reached the far wall and had a 'wicked' deviation on it that I would apparently 'love'! The route was superb and the hang looked stunning. "Yes, Nige Atkins bolted this route in about 1986". I thought, this guys been around a bit then? I was then informed of other classic routes that Nige Atkins had been involved with. I asked about the permanent hangers and was informed that Nige Atkins was involved when these were first introduced to British cave and he placed all the first ones in the peak District.


The trip to the bottom was superb and everyone was singing their heads off, it was fantastic fun. At the sump we were shown where the route comes in from Diccan and I commented (to my obvious downfall), has anyone done this. Why did I ask this….? Oh yes, this place one of Nigel's favourite trips and he used to solo it every week when he was chief caving instructor at the Dales Centre.


It was at this point that the massive penny stated to drop and I realised that the person everyone spoke about, the instructor of cave leaders, the assessor of cave instructors was indeed the same Nige that had taken us to the bottom of Alum. I somehow felt in the presence of some form of caving royalty, however I never at anytime saw him as anything but enthusiastic and helpful to us part timers.


As we made our way to the first prussik up, we all chatted about different prussiking styles and equipment. I must admit that I wasn't the fastest at ascending single rope by far. Indeed, this technique is famous for people taking their time and having a good look around the place. Nige looked over my kit and again gave me some helpful tips and adjusted the bit of cord on my foot loop. He then stayed with me while I ascended up to the top. The cascades were passed as we got to the bottom of the big free hanging pitch with that 'lovely' deviation and one of the group said, I want to beat Nige to be the fastest in the World……..


Then the penny turned into a big gold sovereign! Nige Atkins is the guy that did the rope running on Equinox that my mates met on their Alum trip a few years before! On top of this, I hadn't cottoned on that you and the rest of the group were singing 'I'm walking in the air' as they were on their way up the ropes.


I asked Nige if he was running up this rope and he said "no… too old these days"…. I asked him to explain to me how he did this and he was very enthusiastic to try and get me to do it!

I declined, however I did manage (on the promise that I'd buy him a beer) to at least show me a little rope walk… I am still not sure what he did but he produced a third jammer which had a pulley on it which he removed and then stuck the jammer to his leg somehow… still no idea how he did it. He then asked me to hold the rope which I did…. THAT WAS THE LAST I SAW OF HIM… 


He didn't rope walk, he absolutely ran all the way up to the top… in seconds….. I have never witnessed anything like that in my life and he did it right in front of me. All I remember is a couple of people shouting out loudly from the bridge above me. No idea what they were saying but I guess they were just as gob smacked as I was.


It took me an eternity to get to the top and when I did, there was Nige to watch me pass the deviation. I just looked at his beaming smile, nothing was said by either of us and that will probably be the best moment in my entire caving experience.


"Too old my arse" is the cleaned up version of what I think I said to him and he laughed as he hung over the black hole to de rig the deviation. I spent about half an hour of the trip with Nige at the back as he de rigged and I think I learned more about caves and their development than the whole of the last 10 years of club trips put together.


At the top of the Dolly Tubs pitch, he disappeared with other members of the group to another part of the cave and I got talking to the two that were with you as you de rigged. I really enjoyed the trip out and I especially liked it when you told me you are in Bon Jovi!


One of the guys I spoke with on the way out told me about the caver training workshops Nige has run and how he was helping him to become an instructor. I had no idea that when I booked onto this trip, I would meet with so many people caving at the top end of their sport and everyone of them was eager to offer tips and advice.


When we got back to the café, all of us were on such a high and it was at this point when I realised how well known you guys are in the caving world, I think everyone that walked in and out said hello to you and Nige while we were there. It was really funny as well when Nige started selling kit from behind the counter at discount prices… in front of the café owner…. Priceless!


I just wanted to get these points out as many cavers who may look at going on trips with instructors probably don't understand fully what they are actually getting for their money.


I bought into a days classic caving but what I actually got was a stunning trip, expertly rigged, professionally guided, entertained, educated about the place we were exploring, coached in vertical caving skills and most of all, became friends with the most famous caver in Britain!


I am now planning my days off next year to coincide with your next classic meet!


Yours Sincerely


Rob Bennett